On Europe, history and harpsichords

I was delighted last week to see King’s hosting its annual ‘European Week’, organised by the European Society with support from, amongst others, the Faculty’s Department of European & International Studies. As part of the week’s events, on Tuesday evening there was a lively panel discussion in the Great Hall, chaired by my colleague Dr Lee Savage, on the topic ‘How Realistic is a Non-EU Britain?’, with contributions from Marc Glendening, Graham Stringer, Brendan Donnelly and Hugo Dixon.

It strikes me as particularly important to be debating this question as we approach the General Election in May, for our ongoing membership of the EU hangs in the balance. I think that for us as Faculty the UK’s continued membership of the EU is absolutely vital: more and more of our students come from EU member state countries, and last year alone nearly 40% of the Faculty’s research grant income was from the EU, with such funding being particularly important for us in bringing in higher-value grants. This Faculty would be a much poorer place – intellectually as well as financially – if the UK were to distance itself from the EU.

Last Tuesday’s debate coincided, of course, with Holocaust Memorial Day, which this year marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. This was an opportunity to remember the six million Jewish people who were murdered in Europe in the years leading up to 1945 as well as the five million other victims of the Nazi genocide, including gay people, gypsies and people with mental or physical disabilities. It was a good day on which to learn that the European Commission had confirmed its funding for the next phase of the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure, in which, I’m pleased to say, the Faculty’s Department of Digital Humanities plays a key role: EHRI is bringing together scholars from across the world and making available online a whole host of otherwise inaccessible sources relating to the Holocaust.

Last Tuesday was also a day on which I took the time to listen to my favourite recording of J S Bach’s Partitas, performed by Zuzana Růžičková, a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps. Born in 1927 in Plzeň in Czechoslovakia to a Jewish mother and an atheist father, she found herself, at the age of 15, being sent with her parents to Theresienstadt concentration camp, where her father died; in December 1943, after nearly two years in the camp, Růžičková and her mother were sent to Auschwitz; they were ultimately sent to Bergen-Belsen, from where they were liberated on 15 April 1945 by British and Canadian soldiers. Růžičková went on to become an award-winning harpsichordist, indeed one of the few harpsichordists to have recorded Bach’s complete works for harpsichord, which took her ten years to complete. Her extraordinary interpretation of his music is balm for the soul – and a timely reminder of humankind’s irrepressible capacity for life-enhancing creativity.

One thought on “On Europe, history and harpsichords

  1. Thank-you for this timely post. As someone who read international relations in the School of European Studies at Sussex in the 1960s, part of the generation who responded to President Kennedy’s outward-looking vision, I find it appalling that the UK seems ready to retreat into isolationism (we are too puny on our own for that even to be practicable).
    We rely on the universities to put the case for internationalism, and repeat it at regular intervals.

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